For as long as humankind can remember, from before the compiling of the ancient Vedas through the ages to after the independence of India; from Patanjali to Jesus to Buddha to the Beatles, humans have come from across the world to travel to the great Himalayan mountain range seeking understanding on their spiritual paths. It is no secret that the Himalayas, the largest mountain range in the world, have something about them that has drawn people to their foothills as well as their heights and their depths for millennia. The secret is, what it is they find.
Like many secrets along the spiritual path, the potency of the Himalayas are quite probably only comprehensible through direct experience, as no complexity or extent of words can capture the subtleties and nuances of what one experiences in the presence of these mountains; mountains with the power to whisper to you, even from the other side of the world.
Many spiritual aspirants, particularly yogis, sadhus and swamis come to the Himalayas for sadhana. Sadhana is the Sanskrit word meaning “spiritual practice” or a discipline undertaken with devotion in pursuit of a spiritual goal. From Rishikesh along the great mother Ganges to Gomukh, up to Vashisht, across peaks and valleys, and even into the depths of Tibet, seekers wander and travel across all reaches of the mighty Himalayas to learn, experience, and practice. Some very advanced yogis even choose to never leave these mountains, finding caves where they live minimally without disturbance, enduring harsh winters and extreme living conditions, in order to remain for the rest of their time on earth in the mountains, practicing very high forms of yoga and, shall we say, “holding the universe together.”
In most spiritual practices it is important to find places of peace and seclusion where one can practice their discipline with little distraction. It is also important for many to find a place of practice or devotion, or in some cases worship, where one can feel as close to and as connected to the divine as possible. Examples of this are spaces such as churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples. Other accurate, though possibly more obscure and intangible, examples are spaces such as Stonehenge for ancient Pagan religions and even pure nature itself for some of the traditional religions and Shamanistic practices of the Americas.
Though Hinduism, the religious aspect of the mysticism that is Yoga as it has been derived from the Tantras, performs much of their worship and devotion through temples and idols, for the yogis this sacred space is hidden in the mountains. The Himalayas themselves are the temple. Seeing as the Himalayas are vast with treacherous living conditions, it is no curiosity that practitioners go into their depths for solitude. The curiosity then becomes, what secrets do they find there that seemingly can’t be found anywhere else.
Prana, or “life force energy”, flourishes with abundance in the Himalayas. Using the example of yoga, when we do yogic practices we are essentially seeking to move large quantities of prana thoroughly and evenly throughout the body. Through yogic practices we purify ourselves of physical, mental, karmic and energetic contaminants which would otherwise imbalance the body and mind. Once we have made this space in our being, we are fit to become a vessel for prana, or, if you will, a highly functioning vehicle of divine movement. In order to do this, the yogi needs to collect and store large quantities of prana within the vessel (or body). It therefore makes sense to find areas of concentrated prana in which to make this already daunting task more accessible. The Himalayas are an obvious solution as their energy levels are, quite literally, out of this world. This abundance of life energy is an easily discoverable secret of the Himalayas, felt simply by being in their presence.
The Himalayas are of course not the only energetically potent place in the world. New York City has a whole lot of energy, but is arguably not the most conducive space in the world for spiritual development. The next and more subtle secret of the Himalayas is the quality of its energy.
It has such a pure quality of prana, vibrating at a degree possibly the closest the manifest world can be to that level of the divine. The energy has a high and clear vibration, and it is characterised by its rawness. Raw, pure, potent, and with all the power and force of manifestation and creation. How can one describe it in words except to say that these mountains are so alive, from every blade of grass, to drop of water, every pebble and every mountain peak, every tuft of moss and every sparkling glacier. So alive that it all appears to glow, to vibrate and move together in perfect harmony.
They say that the universe was born in the Himalayas, that deep in the Himalayas is the origin of all creation, the door between worlds, the home of the gods. Perhaps this is the pure force that yogis seek to tap into when they wander into its depths.
Then there are the secrets that only the mountains themselves tell. Patanjali’s yoga is the science of stilling the mind, of bringing the monkey-like tendencies of the mind under the discerning and intelligent control of the intellect. Once the mind has been sufficiently stilled, the yogi can enter deep states of meditation (or Samadhi, of which there are eight levels in increasing difficulty) where it is possible to literally download knowledge from the cosmos. This is how ultimate truth is experienced. When the mind is still, we enter our capacity to listen.
The Himalayas speak to us in many voices, with clarity and wisdom. Maybe they do not give us what we want but they certainly give us everything we need, whispering to us the answers to the questions we did not even know we were asking. Thus the real secrets of the Himalayas are always there, ready to reveal themselves, simply waiting for us to discover them.
Photos from my trek thought the Himalayas to the origin of the Ganges River at Gomukh, Gangotri.